Get Outdoors: Active Volunteering Helps Everyone

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Fri, Oct 25, 2013 @ 09:30 AM

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo.

Over the last quarter of a millennium, humans have moved indoors.  Beginning in 1750 with the first wave of the Industrial Revolution, a gross migration began to occur when people from rural, outdoor, farming communities moved to cities.  Now, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. In the early stages of industrialization, people were moving to cities for factory work. Now, in the post-industrial economies of the developed world, people have moved up from the factories and are working in office spaces, living stationary lifestyles under fluorescent lights.  Students spend most of the school day inside.

With the invention of universal education that came with industrialization, children have also been brought inside. Education inflation has caused young people not only to spend school hours inside, but also to spend more time inside studying, with everyone sinking down in front of the TV or computer when the long, tiring day is over.  Today, we see less-developed countries experiencing the same lifestyle shift that brought us indoors.  

Now, I’m not romanticising life before the “Great Indoor Migration”, because I think it has ultimately improved our lives.  Without this shift I would probably be spending my day harvesting crops, cleaning the house, and thinking about getting married in five years. Instead, I’m going to school and hoping in five years to start a life and career for myself.  The fact of the matter is that we are now living indoors more, and it’s time to spend a little time being active outside.

The fun, animated video “What if You Stopped Going Outside?” describes health risks and problems that could arise from not spending enough time outside - including osteoporosis, depression, and even cancers. 

Furthermore, the Harvard Health Letter gives some of the benefits of spending time outside. These benefits include getting more vitamin D, more exercise, a happier life, better concentration, and a better healing time in the event of injury (you can read more about how sunshine and fresh air help these processes). Being outside feels good and is good for you. Being outside and being active go hand in hand with being healthier and happier, but the main problem facing most people is finding time to be more active.  Volunteering outdoors is a great way to merge outdoor activities with community engagement. You will be impacting the community by volunteering and helping yourself by being active.

A nature trail is a great place to volunteer.

While out in nature, you are inevitably active.  Hiking, climbing, and running are all ways we interact with nature while being active.  It is also important to protect the environment around us so it can sustain us and an active lifestyle. Volunteering with organizations concerned with the environment is a great way to get active and volunteer. Some outdoor environmental projects could entail planting a community or urban garden or helping clean up a river, beach, highway, or nearby park. To find these types of opportunities, look up local parks and environmental organizations. Remember not only to keep it outdoorsy and active, but to keep it local too. Part of being more active is also getting out of those cars and using your legs as transportation.  Cars pollute the environment, so if you are trying to improve the environment and enjoy your time outdoors, do your best not to pollute it even more.  Plus, you’ll have a direct impact on your own local community.  

Sports are another way people enjoy their time outdoors.  Walks and marathons are common fundraising events, and nonprofits are always in need of volunteers to register runners, hand out water, stand along the route and encourage the racers.  For example, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in the States are two runs held to support breast cancer research and breast cancer survivors.  Right now, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but the events are held year round. Local organizations may also hold fundraising races for local causes. In Greensboro, NC, an event call the Chicken Walk will take place next month to raise money to help the Interactive Resource Center, a local resource that helps people experiencing homelessness, keep its doors open.  A fantastic woman named Amy Murphy began the project by taking chicken that restaurants were throwing away, and feeding it to the homeless, who she refers to as her “friends downtown.”  If you are in the area, find out more about this year’s inaugural Chicken Walk. Volunteering with athletics is a great way to help with an important cause, but volunteering actively can also mean supporting the cause of physical activity and exercise itself.  

Volunteer coaching is a great way to stay active and make a difference in your local community.

Volunteer coaching or hosting a field day are both great ways to get outdoors.  Not only will you be active, get outside, and have fun, but you’ll also bring the importance of being active to children growing up in the “Great Indoor Migration”. You’ll become a positive mentor and leader to the kids you work with. You can inspire them to lead healthier lives, develop sportsmanship, and enjoy just being a kid.  To find these kinds of opportunities, team up with local schools, parks, and recreation centres to get involved or to pioneer your own program geared toward fitness.  

What are some ways you are tracking your Noble Impact™ by getting active outdoors? 

Classroom image via FotoPedia

Topics: social, outdoors, service learning, volunteering, community engagement, youth impact, millennials, community, America, civic engagement, opportunities, involvement, active

6 Service Ideas for Halloween

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Tue, Oct 22, 2013 @ 09:30 AM

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo.

The season’s spookiest holiday is just around the corner, but let’s not forget that the scariest things in life don’t come out on Halloween night.  Can you imagine what it would be like to not have have a house, to not have food, to not have clean water, to not have a school to go to, or not to have a family?  Facing life’s toughest challenges and uncertainties is scary.  This Halloween, apart from the ghosts and the jack-o'-lanterns, try to imagine what really scares you and find ways to impact your community and help people in dire situations. Why not celebrate this year with these service ideas

Pumpkins carved for Halloween.

  1. Costume Event Fundraiser:  Host a Halloween party and ask your friends to each bring a small donation for a local nonprofit.  If your school doesn’t allow costumes, see if this year the rules can be broken for a good cause.  Talk to your principal about letting students come in their spooky attire provided they donate to your fundraiser.  If every student in your school donated a dollar, or even a quarter, how much could you raise while still having fun? You could even expand the event by having a whole week of fundraising with a Halloween-related theme for each day.  

  2. Neighborhood Trick-or-Treat Food Drive:  Trick-or-treating is a precious memory.  For me, I always remember my cousins and I precariously huddled together, walking up to the houses with the scaries decorations (and the best candy) only to run back down the driveway screaming at whatever creature had popped out as us. However, it was all worth it when we returned home with sacks of candy.  But with all those bags of candy, I never finished them all.  Instead of collecting candy for yourself, help someone in need by asking your neighbors to give you canned and dried food when you come knocking on their doors.  Try to get as many peers to participate in your efforts to greater the collective impact of just one night of trick-or-treating.  For tips on how to start a program like this in your neighborhood, read about Free the Children’s We Scare Hunger Program. 

  3. Donate a Costume: Bring the fun and scares of Halloween to someone in need by donating old or outgrown costumes that you don’t need anymore.

  4. Pumpkin Crafts: A fun way to celebrate Halloween is by decorating pumpkins.  Share this experience with others by volunteering to help children carve their own Jack-o-Lantern. You could read stories to the children about Halloween and make Halloween decorations out of construction paper if the pumpkins are too messy.  You could also volunteer at a senior citizen home and decorate pumpkins with them.  These crafts could be carving up the pumpkin to create a traditional jack-o'-lantern, or just decorating pumpkins on the outside with paint, glitter, ribbons, etc. and putting them in the seniors’ rooms.  Paint half your pumpkins black and create a large checkers board to play pumpkin checkers.  The smaller pumpkins are ideal for these types of projects because they are easier to work with,  less expensive, and everyone can have one.  

  5. “Trick or Treating for UNICEF”: Beginning in 1950, children have been collecting spare change on Halloween night to collect money to help UNICEF provide basic needs for children worldwide. The first campaign, started by a group of schoolchildren in Philadelphia, raised $17, but in the 60+ years of the program, children trick-or-treating in the United States have raised almost $160 million.  The program has not only been successful to help children abroad, but it educates children on global issues; participating in the program “has given US children, along with their parents and teachers, the opportunity to learn about their peers worldwide who are truly in need” of necessities such as “ medicine, better nutrition, safe water, education, [and] emergency relief.”  This program is about children helping other children in the world.  To find out how to volunteer this Halloween through this program, click here.  

    Halloween Candy

  6. Halloween Safety:  Halloween is fun, but it’s also important for children, especially younger ones, to be aware of how to be safe while walking in the streets at night.  Educate youngsters by creating a fun presentation about Halloween safety.  Perhaps design a skit about what to do and what not to do.  Be sure to emphasize points like staying in a group, crossing the streets carefully, denying invitations into people’s houses, and staying on streets you are familiar with.  Plan a safe Halloween event by hosting Halloween events where children can have fun, be scared, and stay safe.  Here’s an example of a project done by one high school: “With the goal of providing a safe environment for children to go trick-or-treating, Sycamore (Ill.) High School Student Council hosts a unique activity on Halloween. They contact a local retirement center and arrange to have trick-or-treaters visit on Halloween. Student council members provide candy to participating residents and decorate their doors to indicate which rooms children may visit. The trick-or-treaters are escorted around the building by council members.”  Similar project ideas can be found here.  

What volunteer service projects will you participate in this Halloween?

Image Attribution:

Candy Corn

Topics: halloween, trick-or-treat, service learning, volunteering, community engagement, youth impact, millennials, service, opportunities, involvement

Shy or Introverted Students: You can be a leader

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Thu, Oct 17, 2013 @ 08:30 AM

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo.

The five-year-old Natasha was an imaginative little girl living in her own little world.  She played by herself or with her cousins, living comfortably in Neverland until she was thrown into the big wide world: school.  She went through pre-school with her cousin—where the two of them only talked to each other—and spent junior and senior kindergarten (we had two years of kindergarten) mostly keeping to herself the whole time.  She lived within her imagination.  She was scared to talk to people she didn’t know.  Then, at five, she started grade one where she barely knew anyone.  In her new school, everyone could read, but the five year old Natasha didn’t.  From the start she didn’t do very well in class, but luckily her teacher realized her potential.

In grade one, my teacher gave me a green, apple-shaped timer to set when I started my homework, because I struggled with managing my time and finishing my assignments.  On it she wrote, “Natasha, you can do it!” and I did. In time, and with my mom’s help, I learned how to read, and I studied and became self-disciplined.  By the end of the year I was doing much better.  Ten years later, and my peers don’t believe that I used to make D's on those very first report cards because I’ve managed to do pretty well in school. All because of those little words of encouragement, I’ve learned there’s nothing stopping me from my determination.   School Classroom image via

By my freshman year of high school, school came easily to me, but inside I was still the shy little girl again - in a new school of 1,700+ students where I only knew four people.  My quietness was still holding me back.  My best friend wrote me a note in the beginning of the year when I was afraid to talk to someone who intimidated me, and on it those same words from grade one occupy the whole page: “You can do it.”  That was the day I stopped being shy.  Little by little, I shed my inner silence.  I started talking to people outside my comfort zone.  I joined clubs at school and even ran for office in one. I volunteered.  I spoke up, and the whole time I was still just as scared as before, but I did it all anyway. I feel like I’ve become a better leader and person because of it.  Overcoming my shyness has been one of my biggest personal challenges because it’s something I had to figure out by myself, but today it’s resulted in the confident young woman looking back at me in the mirror.

The green-apple timer doesn’t ring anymore because it must have been dropped a few too many times, and when I shake it the pieces inside rattle about.  The message written in Sharpie is faded, but I still keep it and the note because they remind me of how much I’ve grown in my short time on earth.  However, this story is not about my accomplishments, or telling you how great I am—because I have flaws too.  It’s about how I see my own shyness in my peers all the time, and how just a little bit of encouragement would give them the courage to speak up and share the brilliant ideas hiding behind their quietness.  Let this be my “You can do it” to every shy person (but if you aren’t shy keep reading too).

Students help create a more sustainable community.

Being shy can keep students from becoming more active in extracurriculars like sports, clubs, and service-learning.  Timidity can keep us from achieving our goals because being a bit timid and shy is about fearing speaking up both in our words and our actions.  An idea can be entertained in your head, but for it to come to fruition, you need to speak up.  Maybe something inspires an idea in you that could solve a problem in your environment.  Perhaps you think of how to change something in your community like homelessness, hunger, the achievement gap, poverty, or clean water, but that idea is just a thought until you make it a reality.  That takes courage, and it takes confidence in yourself and your abilities. 

If you feel like your shyness inhibits you, I challenge you this week to speak up just once.  Ask just one question in class.  Ask a teacher for help if you’re struggling.  Talk to someone outside of your usual group of friends.  Find out from your peers how you can join an organization at your school and become involved in something that interests you.  Call one local nonprofit and ask about volunteering.  Think of something you’ve always wanted to do, and if the only thing keeping you from it is your fear of speaking up, then challenge yourself to do it anyway.  Sometimes it’s the scariest things that end up being the best things.

Confidence often appears as being loud and fearless.  However, confidence in fact is not how we interact with others.  It’s how you interact with yourself, and how you learn to believe in yourself.  We seek the approval of others before our own, and confidence is learning to be comfortable with your own self-approval.  I’m so grateful that along the way I’ve had people who, in four little words, believed in me and gave me the approval I thought I needed, but I realized all I needed was to find the nerve to believe in myself.

Susan Cain’s book Quiet talks about the power of introverts where she challenges the negative connotations behind the characterization of an introvert.  She talks about how we live in a world where being bold, outgoing, and sociable are valued most, and being quiet and thoughtful are not considered useful.  Everyone is both intrapersonal and interpersonal, but we typically lean naturally toward one more than the other.  With the immutable babble of some successful, loud extroverts we often tune out people who are quiet.  However, Cain suggests that introverts actually make better leaders than extroverts because they are better listeners and can lead more productive groups.  Don’t see your quietness as a weakness; see it simply as part of who you are.

Being quiet isn’t something to be ashamed of.  It’s something to be embraced because it means you bring something different to the table.  Don’t change yourself into someone you think you should be, but sprout into the person you want to be.  

For me, overcoming my shyness wasn’t about changing who I am.  I’m still very much the imaginative little girl from preschool, but I’ve grown up and developed my ability to communicate who I am to the world.  As much as I love my friends and activities that challenge me to speak up, my favorite time of day is between 2:30-5:30am when I can be by myself, entertaining the constant soliloquy in my head.  If you aren’t a shy person, I challenge you to realize that speaking up is not as easy for some people as it is for you.  I challenge you to be the green-apple timer in someone’s life, and if you’re like me and are shy, I implore you to adopt the mantra: You can do it. 

Topics: volunteering, engagement, leadership, introvert, shyness, involvement

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